Quitting Is For The Enemy

Wounded Warrior with prosthetic leg goes after a treed bear 1,000 yards deep into a southeast Georgia swamp.

Daryl Gay | December 28, 2022

Wounded Warrior Sam Muzayen wasn’t going to let a prosthetic keep him from making the very long and thick trek deep into a south Georgia swamp after this bear. Below: Sam served our country proudly as a Marine, doing two tours in Afghanistan.

Normally, this is a period fraught with chaos. Never mind the ever-present and who-knows-how-deep black water, claustrophobic brush, vines and briers clawing and ripping; just hurry as best you can. Hounds are roaring out of their minds, hunters sloshing, tripping, bleeding, pushing on… Because some 987 interminable yards into the Okefenokee Swamp, a bear is treed. But for how long? He could come down at any second, fighting dogs or racing to his next bolt-hole. This trek, however, is anything but normal. And for the hunters, it comes to an abrupt halt: Sam has to put his leg back on.

Back on November’s Back Page, concerning one particularly nasty bear, I mentioned my next trip and promised to get around to telling you about it. Well, here we are; from SO many angles. They kept popping up, as unannounced as a left hook. It took a while to get things sorted, and I’m not sure we’re there yet. But deadlines stepped in and, after all, I told you it was coming…

It is Oct. 7, 2022, and daylight over the Okefenokee is still a ways off as our group of friends, old and new, gathers beside Highway 1, between Waycross and Folkston. I’m glad it’s dark, because tears are beginning to trickle. That happens about once every 20 or so years, and although I knew they were likely to show up, not this early. 

About a mile back up the road, son Dylan and I passed the home of Jackie Carter, with whom I fell into this bear-hunting abyss more than 30 years ago. He left us suddenly in July of 2017, and I haven’t been able to bring myself back to hunt here without him for the past five years. Great friend Don Butts—who goes all the way back to the early days of hunting with Jackie—helped ease the pain by inviting me to his club on the west side of the Swamp, south of Homerville. He’s family, and we’ve taken some good bears together, which is not as important as the time in the truck.

But this is bear-hunting home, and the memories just keep flooding back, especially as one smiling face after another sidles over. And then, it’s almost like looking at Jackie himself: his son, Zach. I can’t seem to manage to hug the big galoot hard enough or thank him properly for reaching out with an invitation to complete this circle.    We refuse to become maudlin, and shift gears. Zach’s dad was a Marine, and he changed my life; now, I’m introduced to another Marine—who’s about to do the same thing.

Sam Muzayen is a Wounded Warrior who did two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He lost his left leg—but not overseas. No, it took a couple of stateside drunks to manage that. He can tell the story better than I can.

“I joined the Marine Corps in 2008 at 24 and was the second-oldest guy in my company,” he said. “That maturity definitely helped me in the Corps; I was already very fit, so boot camp didn’t really bother me all that much. I did two tours in Afghanistan, got out in 2013 and went right into Orange County Sheriff’s Academy in Orange, Calif. Three years after becoming a police officer for the city of Orange, I responded to a call for someone blocking a driveway at three in the morning. The caller was trying to get to work, and a drunk driver had parked his truck in their driveway and passed out. It was Dec. 10, 2016.

“As I was getting some paperwork and materials from the back of my police SUV, another drunk driver came out of the darkness, lights off and sandwiched me between the front of her sedan and the back of my vehicle at 45 miles an hour.”

 In the blackness on that Orange, California, street, Sam Muzayen knew within seconds that he was staring death in the face. As he spoke, I couldn’t help but recall the similarities of Jackie’s ordeal, shared painfully over the course of a couple decades: arrived in South Vietnam New Year’s Day, got blown up by a trip-wire grenade on Easter Sunday, told by doctors on several continents that he would never walk again and that his leg had to come off. But they didn’t know William Jackson Carter, and they were wrong on both counts. 

Sam continues, “Both main bones were broken, my femoral artery was severed and I later had a brain bleed. Fortunately at the time, I had a tourniquet in my medical kit. My partner was there and I helped him apply it to my leg. That saved my life until medics were able to respond.”

That was the beginning.

“Doctors told me that I would never walk again, and that the leg needed to come off. But I said ‘No.’ I was in the hospital for a month, in rehabilitation for two or three weeks, physical therapy for almost a year after that. But I didn’t lose my leg right then.”

He says it matter-of-factly now, six years to the day. But I can see the clenched-teeth determination that it must have taken to overcome tribulation never truly understood unless experienced. And there was more to come.

Cole Carter takes a breather. He is the man responsible for chopping a path into Sam’s bear.

“Damage to my circulatory system was so severe that I kept having issues. Three years to the day of the accident, I lost my leg. Then it took me over a year until I was walking without too much problem with my prosthesis. But I always loved fishing and hunting, and I got back into the outdoors. I continued deer hunting in the mountains of California, which is not super successful because you hardly ever see a deer; we hunted hogs with dogs, and it was a lot of fun but full of challenges. I love filling my freezer with meat that I kill. I have three kids, 14, 8 and 4 now, and my two older ones usually go hunting with me. My older son loves deer and coyote hunting, and my daughter is 8 and into turkey hunting more than anything else. She and I watch MeatEater all the time, and we saw him go on a black bear hunt once. Then, out of nowhere, my Marine buddy Jason Lloyd told me that they had a bear hunt coming up in Georgia, and if I wanted to go we could work it out. I live in St. Marys, about an hour away; that was a no-brainer.”

So here we are. For the uninformed, it works like this: at first light, hunters are riding the dirt roads, looking for a crossing bear track. If it leads into one block of woods and there is no sign of coming out on surrounding roads, the track is evaluated for size and to be sure there are no accompanying cub tracks. If it’s a go, hunters spread out along the roads ahead, dogs loosed behind and hopefully the race is on. The bear can fight, run, swim, climb or disappear. And it’s amazing how many times the latter happens.

The sole purpose of this hunt is to get Sam Muzayen on a bear. Yesterday, he got his first chance.

“Obviously, I had never been on a bear hunt and when they told me they were going to hunt with dogs, I was a little concerned because of the trips I had taken in the past for hogs,” he says. “The first day there was a lot of riding around in trucks, so that was good. I was put out as a stander on the road, and the bear crossed at full sprint. That was the first one I had ever seen in the wild. They gave me a Marlin lever-action .30-30, and when that bear crossed, I know I shot a little high and missed. But one of the other hunters killed that one.”

Which weighed in at 186 pounds. Truth told, I think the Okefenokee knew I was coming, and kept all the good stuff stored up an extra day…

Friday morning, Oct. 7. I won’t soon forget it. We’ve checked blocks throughout for tracks, put dogs in a couple of times and seen approximately NO bears. Noon’s not far off and we’re running out of ideas. But, as almost always, there’s this one more spot where, “There’s been a bear a’layin’ up now and again for quite a while…”

Cut to the chase: now he’s treed. At that aforementioned 987 yards. On a Garmin. Straight line. Of which there are none in the Okefenokee Swamp. That’s 2,961 feet; 5,280 feet in a mile, one of about three things I remember from high school. But there are no miles like this back in Dodge County. Beside the road, gearing up, we are considering a trek well OVER that span into the morass. The uneasiness is palpable; the old hands KNOW what’s out there. All eyes turn to Sam Muzayen; he’s reaching for a rifle. His rifle.

“I wanted that bear, that’s all I’m thinking,” he said. “I knew it was gonna be hard. I knew it was gonna be rough, but my drive for getting that bear was much greater than my concern of how I was going to get through all this. I wanted my gun, a .450 Bushmaster on an AR-15 platform, that I built myself. I put a lot of thought and quality into the guns I build, and I take a lot of pride in them,”

To go or not to go was Sam’s decision to make, and make it he did. Up we lined—and the tears suddenly began brewing again. Amazing how simple memories lie dormant, then strike like a ton of bricks.

We really ain’t got time for this, I told myself, but directly in front of me in single file were Cole Carter, Zach Carter and Dylan Gay—sons of Wiley, Jackie and Daryl, respectively. I can’t tell you how many times over the years Jackie, his cousin Wiley and I struck out in similar procession. Us all over again! A broad smile kicked back the saltwater as I looked around the trees as if Jackie himself was about to show up.

“We win, Jailbird,” I spoke out loud. “We win.” 

So what if folks looked at me like I’m crazy. I’m used to it.

Jailbird, by the way, was Jackie’s CB handle. For reasons of which you have no need of knowledge.

Zach Carter (left) and Dylan Gay carry on the Okefenokee tradition of bear hunting with hounds in south Georgia swamps.

 We cut and trimmed two stout saplings to steady Sam, and Dylan shouldered his Bushmaster. Cole led the way, wielding a machete and working twice as hard as the rest of us trying to clear as much of a path as is possible in the Swamp.

 We’re back at our initial halt now, and Sam recalls, “We had to take several wide detours to get around thick brush. My leg got stuck once, slipped halfway off once, then later came off entirely, and I had to reseat myself in it.”

While Dylan and I hovered over him, I leaned in and quietly asked if he needed a break. Looking with eyes I’ll never forget, he responded, “Quitting is for the enemy.”

OK; we’re going to kill that bear now if we have to chase him to Maine. It took us over two hours to get to the tree. And then, there he still was, a tremendous tribute to the Plott pack of Wesley Whitfield.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Sam says. “It was the first time I ever saw a black bear treed, the second one I had ever seen in the wild at all. I was just trying to keep my eyes on the bear while trying to walk and not tripping. That was not easy. I was afraid that bear would come down and lash out at dogs or people, so as soon as I saw him sliding down that trunk, I took the shot.”

 The 198-lb. boar fell like a rock, but Zach, trained by the best, jumped in and put a final .44 through its neck. Case closed. Well, almost.

After two hours in, it took over three to get back out—dragging a bear. This was, by far, the toughest hunt of my life, testing every limit. Even so… quitting is for the enemy.

“After I got out of the swamp, I was just laying there for a good 30 to 45 minutes trying to get some energy back,” Sam said. “At home I took off my leg, was washing it and there was a lot of Okefenokee Swamp that came out of that thing. Since my injury, I have a hard time falling asleep, but when I do, if I don’t set several alarms I don’t wake up. After a good shower that night I slept through six alarms and for almost 16 hours. This was the toughest thing I’ve done in a long time.”

We’ll wind it up with this:

“I was born in Denver; my father took us to Berlin, Germany, when I was five, and I was there for 16 years; then California,” Sam says. “But I never felt at home until moving to Georgia. I feel at peace here, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It would make me very proud to one day see my sons lined up on a bear hunt.”

I understand.

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.